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Resubmitting a Revision

This is a common question I hear from writers. This version comes from Robert:

When an agent takes the time to write a personalized rejection (always nice of them) praising a manuscript, at least in part, how can a writer know if the agent might be interested in seeing a revision if offered or if the agent is just being kind? Is there a good way to offer a revision without risking annoying an agent who has already so politely declined?

Most writers know that there are several types of rejection (if this is news, click on the link for a post I’ve written on the subject to learn more and what they are). In terms of percentages, I’d say I give about 93% Form Rejections, 5% Personalized Rejections, and 2% Revision Rejections. What leads to a Personalized Rejection? If I’ve talked to you before, if I recognize your name from blog comments, if the writing is almost there, if something about the pitch or the project impressed me and made me sit up and take notice, you’ll get more than a Form Rejection from me. If I came really close to requesting the full but there was a deal breaker in terms of voice or writing or premise, I’ll send a Revision Rejection.

I have a really strict system in my head (if you have any doubt, see how I read slush and how I consider full manuscripts). For me, personally, if I don’t give you a Revision Rejection, it’s not because I didn’t think about it and not because I don’t know that you want one. I did think about it and I know that the Revision Rejection and the door it opens is something that writers want. That’s why I give it so deliberately. If I was giving everyone a Revision Rejection, that would decrease the importance of the RR and, honestly, give writers false hope.

It’s my job as an agent to spot dead-on potential in manuscripts. Am I sometimes wrong? Of course. Do I sometimes miss good stuff? Sure. But the only thing I really have going for me when I approach submissions is my judgment. Good or bad, wrong or right, I have to trust it. And when I ask for a revision from one writer and not from another, that’s me listening to my gut and making a choice.

So if I don’t ask you for a revision outright, what can you do? Emailing me immediately to ask if I’d be interested in seeing a revision down the line is probably not your best bet. Your manuscript in its current form, the form I rejected, is still fresh in my mind. I chose not to send you a Revision Rejection. I may not be feeling overly optimistic about the project. This doesn’t make me more receptive.

Your other option? Well, you can read a related post, here, for bigger manuscript questions after a rejection. Or you can just go ahead and do the revision — assuming that other agents felt similarly and you didn’t manage to land representation on this submission round — and then present me with a query for the revised manuscript months later, when it is new again. (A query, mind you, don’t just send the full, as before.) I much prefer that method of broaching a revision.

And do take your time. I firmly believe that revision doesn’t happen quickly. It can’t. So much of the revision process is subconscious, and you can’t rush your “back brain.” So make sure you disappear into your revision cave for months and months before trying to present the project as a revised version. Because if you’re getting rejected all over the place, you probably need to do some heavy revision. Something isn’t working. And if something isn’t working, you can’t address that in a week or two.

So if you still want to work with the agent who sent you something nice but that wasn’t an outright Revision Rejection, I suggest doing the revision and trying them again, but only after serious time has passed.

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  1. Sarah B.’s avatar

    Thanks so much for this!

  2. Rob Kent’s avatar

    Great post! As usual, it’s not what I want to hear, but it is very good advice. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this as it will help me better plan my submission approach. You are awesome sauce.

  3. Bree’s avatar

    Good information! I still have my own set of revisions to finish before I query, but it’s nice to know that future rejections might not be the death of my novel.

  4. Susan James’s avatar

    Ok Mary, I’m gonna ask because I’ve always wondered. I realize you can’t truly answer for other agents, but do you have any thought or comment on…

    If you get a rejection that says “your work has a lot of potential” is that for real or is that just being nice/form letter?

  5. michelle’s avatar

    Great advise again! Learning so much here!!

  6. Kate B.’s avatar

    It’s always tough, figuring out how to walk that fine line between being persistent and being pushy. I usually want to start my agent e-mails with, “If I’m being a pest, forgive me. I just don’t want to miss the chance to work with you.”

    Thank you for this, Mary. :)

  7. Melissa Gill’s avatar

    I’ve recently heard of a couple of situations where writers have stayed up night and day to finish revisions quickly, only to have the person who suggested the revisions tell them they returned the revisions too quickly. You have to be patient. But this is great information regarding a personal rejection and a revision rejection.

  8. katharine owens’s avatar

    thank you Robert for asking a question I was also thinking about, and thanks to Mary for answering it!

  9. Monica B.W.’s avatar

    This must be really something we all writers wonder about, and LOL, today I was just going to ask you something VERY similar here. I’m glad I didn’t have to wait for an answer!
    Thank you Robert and Mary :D

  10. Katie Carroll’s avatar

    This post was very helpful in keeping me patient during my current revision process. I just have to remember, it’s okay to take the time I need to do it right. Thanks!

  11. Rachel’s avatar

    Great Post. Something we all think and worry about. Thanks for the continued advice and encouragement!

  12. Margo Kelly’s avatar

    Very helpful and encouraging. Thank you.

  13. Megan K. Bickel’s avatar

    This was very interesting. Does this hold true for picture books as well? I guess I’m wondering if a 400 word manuscript would have enough potential without being good enough. Does that make sense? Like how much could be suggested before the suggestions are just for a whole different book?

  14. Catherine Johnson’s avatar

    Since we all had this in the back of our minds, I think the last post led nicely to this one. Thanks for making it all so clear.

  15. Kelsey’s avatar

    Thanks for the detailed and blunt answer. I also appreciate the links to your previous posts. Your blog is helping me prepare to be a very knowledgable writer and ms. submitter!

  16. Leona Broberg’s avatar

    As always, helpful and informative information. I know every agent is different, but it’s nice to have a clue about the inner workings of it all. Thanks, Mary!

  17. Amber Hunter’s avatar

    I may be asking for the obvious here, but…

    If my manuscript was originally rejected without a revision request, should I say so if I query again several months later? Looking forward to your webinar in a few days!

  18. Elizabeth May’s avatar

    Really great advice here, Mary!

    I think the best thing a writer can do is revise slowly. It’s so easy to miss things with those quick revisions, and it’s best to let one’s editing sink in before going at it again. I know some writers who focus on a chapter at a time, and then do a full run through at the end. I’ve also found this to be a an effective way to revise, because it doesn’t feel as overwhelming.

    As with anything in publishing, slow and steady pays off. There are so many who rush those revisions because they’re afraid the agent will magically change their mind. Of course, this wouldn’t be the case, but we writers can be an impatient lot!

  19. Ann Marie Wraight’s avatar

    Another clear and well explained answer to a question that ALL of us must worry over at some point in our writing lives.

    Nobody wants to intentionally bother or pester a busy agent – thanks for clearing up some of the mystique surrounding an agents inner thought process. As you mentioned in a recent post – we aren’t mind readers and something that an agent takes for granted in her/his every day professional life can cause a minefield of self doubt or false hopes for a writer.

    Thank you for another brilliant post!

    I hope that I can still sign up for the webinar – I’m trying to sign up from Greece and there seem to be a few technical problems… fingers crossed!
    It looks as if it’s going to be phenomenal!

  20. Michele’s avatar

    Let’s say you sent a form rejection on a writer’s first query (no part of a manuscript requested), presumably because the project didn’t interest you. Do you want to know in another query, months later, about the previous contact? Have you taken on any clients who’ve queried you a second or third time with completely different projects? Do you then take a look at that first project you weren’t interested in, assuming it’s not a practice manuscript?

    In a related area, you’ll be speaking at a conference I’m attending soon. Would you recommend waiting until after the conference to query?

  21. C. Lee McKenzie’s avatar

    I enjoyed reading your post on rejection. Wow! Imagine enjoying that topic, but I did because it helped clear up a lot of vagaries about how an agent approaches the business of sorting, deciding, and responding to submissions.

    Thank you for the information.

  22. Shanda McCloskey’s avatar

    Mary, I have been reading your blog for about 3 months now. (since you came to the Southern Breeze conference in ATL) This is my first comment :) I am a super duper beginner in the world of submitting and I want to thank you for letting us see inside your head! Love it and I’m learning so much!

  23. karen’s avatar

    Hello Mary. I enjoyed the clarifying points here.
    My question is: when sending a semi-requested revision to an agent, who said they’d take another look because they like characters and plot, and offered some tips — how would the query look in this instance — when resending?
    I’m racking my brain over this. Thank you.

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